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Advice to a Poet from the Editor of Poetry Review

Advice to a Poet from the Editor of Poetry Review by SPARK, Muriel [Geraldine Fitzgerald Marler] (1948)

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Author: SPARK, Muriel [Geraldine Fitzgerald Marler]
Title: Advice to a Poet from the Editor of Poetry Review
Year: 1948
Publisher: Unpublished
Place: London
Dust Jacket: No
Signed: Yes
Price: £500
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'I think you should try to put down your thoughts as they come without any form of mental censorship' - Muriel Spark's trenchant critique of a poem sent to her in 1948 when she was General Secretary of the Poetry Society. Typed on a single sheet of '"Finance" Bank' watermarked paper with old folds and a couple of taped repairs, Spark praises the submitted poem (part of the manuscript is present) as 'competant' [sic] as 'it may encourage you to know that Coleridge, Keats and Shelley all began by writing verses of mere competancy' [sic]. Spark advises against archaisms and recommends avoiding 'mental censorship. Write the poem as if nobody was going to read it except yourself, and then you can be absolutely sincere...' Spark finishes with a handwritten postscript in ink, signed in full. Accompanying the critique is a letter from 1992 from her home in Tuscany in which Spark recalled her 'hectic days' at the Poetry Society: 'I am interested & amused by the critique I sent you of your poem - probably unsolicited, but really well meant.' Additionally a manuscript passage from 'Duet (a fragment)' in the hand of its writer, Geraldine Fitzgerald Marler and a copy of the letter she sent to Muriel Spark in 1992 as well as a printed section from Marler's unpublished autobiography describing how her poem came to be submitted to Spark in 1948 by a third party. A fascinating insight into Spark's life before she was first published, an episode which is recounted on the website of the Scottish Poetry Society: 'Spark was at the time neither settled nor emollient: she was having an affair with the still married poet Howard Sergeant, she expected from the Society a flat which would accommodate herself and her son (she never got it), and she wanted to flex her muscles, believing that ‘if you are in the driver’s seat, you drive’ (CV, 169). During her editorship, Poetry Review got a slightly more modern-looking format... She did... insist that poets were paid, thus professionalising the Review, and her combative but thoughtful editorials – ‘Cannot we cease railing against the moderns?’; ‘The word “obscure” is a convenient one that a superficial or dishonest critic might apply to any poem he fails to understand’’ – have not lost their point. The experience also gave Spark one of her most famous bon mots, on Marie Stopes who made herself Spark’s enemy: ‘I used to think it a pity that her mother rather than she had not thought of birth control’ (CV, 178).'
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